• Artificial Intelligence and the Absurd Part IV (Conclusion)

Artificial Intelligence and the Absurd Part IV (Conclusion)

In my previous remarks on the existence of the absurd in our existence, I tried to seriously confront this way of feeling and thinking again and not to leave the supremacy exclusively to the usual purely rational way of thinking.

What worries me most is the increasing lack of understanding for the creative power of the irrational. This is the place of art and the source of ideas. To negate this fact is increasingly threatening, directly for people themselves. Rationality and causality, especially in science and technology, have led to great success in improving living conditions. But not only! For all the success of natural science results in fear for the most part. I’m thinking about things such as nuclear threat, climate destruction, environmental problems caused by plastics and artificial fertilizers, glyphosate, etc. These successes frighten people, lead to disorientation and social chaos. To counter this, it is not enough to fall back on reason alone, but only to turn more strongly to so-called complementary pairs of opposites, as the Nobel Prize winner in physics Wolfgang Pauli explained in 1958. He speaks of the "evil backside of the natural sciences. But we explore nature in order to find fulfillment in thinking and feeling.

When rationality suffers shipwreck (atomic bomb, environmental destruction), it is not recourse to reason that helps, but reflection on complementary pairs of opposites.

For me, the complementary pairs of opposites in question are:

Consciousness - Unconscious (editor's note: not subconscious)

Thinking - Feeling

Reason - Instinct

Logos - Eros

The linguistic fixation in favour of one half of such a pair of opposites is the sure symptom that human wholeness is psychologically not achieved or even blocked."

 Immanuel Kant already said that reason is reasonable enough to point out that it cannot be used to grasp and organize everything. There are limits to reason;

On the contrary: the contradictory, the absurd is virtually predestined to burst the "cage of the rational" in order to restore the necessary freedom to our thinking and our consciousness.

In the end, I found that children are best able to be open to contradictions and contradictory things, in order to give free rein to their thoughts and ideas. And indeed, the beginning of the theatre of the absurd by such important authors as Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett can be traced back to a French school and its school theatre.

But before I write about this, I would like to point out a form of the absurd that does not achieve the possibility of regained freedom, but even misses it.

As previously mentioned, it was above all the belief in the power of the natural sciences, so-called positivism, and people's resulting belief in progress that led to delusion. Until the middle of the 19th century, the idea of scientific and technological progress was always inextricably linked with human progress, but two world wars completely swept away this beneficial togetherness. Out of this human distress, a younger generation in particular sought a foothold on the fine line of existentialist philosophies of the Heidegger, Sartresch and Camuscher variety. Ever since scientific progress with its three theses asserted itself:

-          Gaining more power over the world;

-          Let the possible be the true;

-          And the rationally plannable is the good

trust in science was also lost for this generation. However, trust is the basic prerequisite for science to be accepted by people. The meaninglessness of existence forms the core of existential philosophies. Being "thrown into existence" is the only tenable realization. However, a question that logically follows from this was never answered because it was never asked: who did the throwing? This question was never even asked. What remained was the widespread feeling of the absurdity of human existence in the abandonment of all transcendental, otherworldly spheres. Man remained resolved in himself. Death was a "metaphysical scandal" claimed Sartre.

Disorientation and fears grow from not knowing and suppression of knowledge about the whence and whither of mankind. Metaphysical fears such as those in Albert Camus' book "The Myth of Sisyphus" (see part 1 of my essays on AI and the Absurd). At one point it says: "... man feels himself a stranger. There is no way out of this exile because there is no memory of a lost homeland and no hope of a Promised Land. This separation of man from his life, of the actor from his background, is precisely the feeling of absurdity."

But it is precisely this feeling that the AI also conveys. I will return to this in more detail. At this point, there is an important argument to be made against AI. It is impossible for machine intelligence, or let's say machine data processing, or even better, data-based systems, to respond to people's lifelike search for transcendence.

I am not concerned with the absurd as an existential prison into which one has been thrown, but with its positive potential of good spiritual anarchism. Every important artist has cultivated this spiritual anarchism by breaking open old familiar forms in order to search for new ones.

Ionesco and Beckett (and all the authors of the theatre of the absurd not mentioned here, above all Georges Schéhade) took a decisively different path. They dispensed with a rational mode of representation, entered the sphere of mental absurdity and created forms to express it artistically. Ionesco, whose impressions or rather intrusions into the realm of a different reality, a new certainty, seeks security and distance from the oppressive everyday reality of people's physically bound existence, recommends in his play: "The Bald Singer": "you have to look out of the window in life, because in reality everything is different!"

In his work "Endgame", Samuel Beckett has Nell sitting in her dustbin exclaiming "nothing is funnier than misfortune, I admit that..."


In his comprehensive work "The Theatre of the Absurd", literary scholar Martin Esslin, probably one of the best interpreters of this art form, points to the precursors of the absurd and sees the new artistic form as a kind of return to old archaic traditions. "From there, suggestions can be gained to approach the essence of the absurd, to a lively expression of the change in consciousness taking place in the present that must necessarily also take place."

The form of nonsense poetry known in England moves neither in the physical layer of being, nor in the biological or spiritual, but in the purely sphere of the soul, in the empty realm of purely soulful existence. There, in the space of this freedom, every true artist searches for that which leads beyond the given of creation to the possible. This new possible only gains its inner justification when it actually works out a new form of the real. It is always about the connection between form and content. The appearance of the absurd is only justified if it appears in a form that is an expression of a certain attitude of the artist. Then it is not a meaningless form. Putting psychological states on stage in an objectified form is the basis.

Sigmund Freud, for example, wrote in a study on the source of the comic that the desire for nonsense has its roots in the feeling of freedom that takes hold of us once we take off the straitjacket of logic.

So it is important to hold on to and distinguish between what is really absurd and what is only seemingly absurd. Essentially, this is not a question of style, but a question of a radically different intellectual perspective that leads to freedom, to openness.

I would like to mention a resulting dispute among theatre theorists. They were concerned with finding an answer to the question: is it a theatre of the absurd or absurd theatre?

I have actually already given an answer to the first question: the absurd as a form of human destiny has never been thematised on stage, but rather absurd theatre as an art form. As has always been the case in the arts, it is fundamentally about a connection between the sensually perceptible outer world and the soulful spiritual inner world. In short: it has always been a matter of combining the external appearance of an object with an inner image. This is achieved by the artist's self-creative power. Through this process, one sought to experience the real in the quality of another, new reality and to give it a form. It was never the object itself that mattered, but far more the experience that arose from dealing with it. As soon as the real had been brought into a special position through the self-creative process in and by the artist, it became an art form, could be experienced and thus also mentally processed. In it, the outside world became tangible, and not just that - one also freed oneself from the narrowness of a world view that could only be imagined but not experienced.

Let us return to the previously mentioned students and their theatre at the Saint-Brieuc secondary school (Rennes) in Brittany and then to their theatrical experiments at the Lycêe Henri IV in Paris, especially those of the student Alfred Jarry (1873 - 1907) and the beginnings of his famous play "King Ubu". This work, which emerged from the jokes of the student theatre, was then premiered at the Théâtre de l'Ovre in Paris on December 10, 1896. In this play, Jarry broke with established theatre conventions and caused a scandal with his penchant for excessive shocks and new forms of representation. At  23, he dared to break away from the traditional content of speech or ideas, as well as from all claims to reality of the previous theatre. Instead, he called for a radically a-mimetic "théâtre-action" close to the marionette stage. He depersonalized his characters and characterized them with few external features, whose actions were determined by irrationality. They never acted causally and were always incapable of change or learning. He liked to use face masks, a monotonous way of speaking, like a timeless "persona".

Père Ubu, a drawing by Alfred Jarry
Source: Wikipedia

After his early death, his work was forgotten until after the Second World War. The playwright Andre Gide brought the theatre of the absurd back into the public eye. In the early 1950s and 1960s, works by authors of the absurd were regularly performed on all theatres. For example, Ionesco's central absurdist work "The Bald Singer" premiered on 11 May 1950 at the famous Théâtre des Noctambules in Paris, directed by Nicolas Bataille. Since 1957, it has been on the programme of the Théâtre de la Huchette every day and has been performed there more than 17,000 times.

How quickly and with what simple means Ionesco leads his play to a way of thinking liberated from rationality can be found in his stage directions right at the beginning. 

Stage directions: "A bourgeois English interior with English armchairs. An English evening entertainment. Mr Smith, an Englishman with his English slippers, sits in his English armchair, smokes an English pipe and reads an English newspaper by an English fire. He wears English glasses and a small grey English moustache. Next to him, in a second English armchair, Mrs Smith, an Englishwoman, mending English socks. A long English silence. The English wall clock strikes 17 English strokes.

Mrs Smith: "Look at that, its 9 o'clock..."

The 17 strokes of the clock make the technically precisely measurable time disappear. A space is created, open to all interpretations.

Another example of a completely open experiential space can be found at the beginning of the play "Proverbs Evening" by Georges Schehadé, first performed on 13 January 1954 at the Théâtre Marigny in Paris under the direction of the legendary actor and director Jean-Louis Barrault.

Here the stage direction reads:

"Before the curtain rises, a voice is heard:

'There were several of them who took part in this evening and are now dead. Time has thrown their age out the window. Their bodies have rotted in water and grass. If the melody survives in the soul of a child, if everything that was spirit remains - then I want to tell the story of a wonderful night.

The curtain rises."

After that, this art of the absurd quickly fell silent. It was accused of spreading a lack of realism and of finding no meaning in what appeared to be a total emptying of meaning. This is the frivolous reason why this theatre is hardly ever performed any more. A huge mistake!

What's more, some people believe that forms of expression developed much later, such as Dadaism and Surrealism, are closer to reality.

The artists of Dadaism quite deliberately proclaimed that they were not making art, but anti-art for a society that had fallen prey to materialism.

Surrealism is based on a falsified continuation of Dadaism, which came about when a clever art market management declared that Dada was now the new art! Now the market had goods again, but these goods were the result of brutal counterfeiting. Surrealism followed on from this. It initially saw itself as a counter-movement to abstract art, before increasingly turning to the unconscious. In this, it mainly followed the ideas of Siegmund Freud and proclaimed the so-called "automatism to super-reality" in a manifesto by André Breton. The exploitation of deep psychological automatisms became the source of this art. This is not a matter of self-creative searching and finding on the part of the artists, but of automatisms. This has nothing whatsoever to do with absurd theatre.

Ionesco's writing "Why I write", for example, documents how reality-orientated he was.  The situation of society at the time could hardly be captured more precisely.

Anglo-American views of all the arts have taken the lead in Europe to this day.

A typical American reaction was not to use the theatre, but the possibility of creating a film comedy. In 1967, for example, Richard Quine and Alexander Mackendrick made a film entitled "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad". This play is about the depiction of the so-called American matriarchy. It has nothing to do with the theatre of the absurd.

That is why the core of absurd theatre should be noted here once again:

The art of absurd theatre feels more akin to a kind of dream experience than to our normal waking consciousness. The absurd act breaks up the usual experience in order to make the outer world transparent. The authors of absurd theatre did not create a new style. Artists never concern themselves with the creation of new styles. These are mainly brought into the world by historians, and only when an epoch has been completed and has become manageable (Minerva's owl).

As we know, our inner life does not merely follow logical laws. Our experiences are fuelled by a-logical reasons or occasions much more often than we assume.

In his inaugural lecture "The Positivity of the Real" at the University of Berlin on 15 November 1841, the philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775 - 1854) explained: "Positive philosophy is only possible under the aspect of a "negative philosophy". The "negative philosophy" follows the realisation that the ego of man cannot justify itself in its certainty and must therefore presuppose the absolute transcendence of God."

He thus established the proof of God in idealistic philosophy. This proof was adopted by almost all important philosophers. His audience included some very important people, including the philosopher of existentialism Sören Kirkegaard. Kirkegaard is said to have said that he was too old to listen to such a lecture and that Schelling was too old to give such a lecture. However, the philosophers Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Siegmund Freud, Martin Heidegger etc. followed his philosophical suggestion.

Schelling: "Positive philosophy is a philosophy of mythology and revelation that is based on religious experience and takes account of the irrational."

Anyone who still believes that the entire reality of the world can only be grasped logically and rationally will find no justifiable reason in the absurd. He cannot be helped.

One result of this absurd view can be seen in the entire technical and scientific progress. Its achievements present themselves successfully to the modern world. It is precisely the paradox that it is not the failure of these sciences that threatens mankind and the earth, but on the contrary, it is their successes! Their triumphs are pulling us ever faster to the edge of our existence and the existence of the earth. We do not wish to minimise the merits of this science at this point. But for the most part, its successes are causing people existential hardship and fears of survival.

From here, I would like to address the phenomenon of AI in just a few sentences. I don't need many sentences because this area is currently being discussed and published extremely often.  I will only provide a limited perspective from an artistic point of view:

First of all, I believe that a clarification of terms is indispensable, because a wrong or misunderstood use of terminology can lead to the worst consequences.

I would like to demonstrate this using the term "information" as an example. The term suggests that we are being informed about something or that information is being chased around the world. Information does not originally have this meaning. It is derived from the Latin verb "informare" and translates as "to form, to educate". However, education, informatio, is precisely what the constantly well-informed citizen lacks today, as education has nothing to do with "knowledge". Education always refers to forms, ways of life, which always have to be created anew. This completely false understanding of information as pure factual knowledge instead of FORM-KNOWLEDGE is the source of the next false conclusion about the concept of so-called "cultural values", a canon of values or a "community of values", etc. Value" is a fixed, above all measurable concept from economic science, a fact. Education, however, is never aimed at fixed facts, but at "spiritual goods". There is something vital and essential about these goods and they need to be constantly reshaped and reinvented. I have thus named two accelerants of daily social chaos.

And now to the concept of intelligence. This term is also derived from the Latin verb "intellegere" and means "to choose", to read between, to read together, the ability of insight and of finding one's way.

To better understand this, I use a remarkable sentence by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: "The notes are not the music, but the silence between them."

Experiencing, feeling, sensing, longing, grieving in between - that is intelligence! All this can never arise from AI! But it can always arise from a true artist. That's why AI has no chance in true art.

And what's more, we are once again dealing with the success of science and technology, which experience has shown can threaten people. The pursuit of AI has created a giant of data, data controls, controls that are increasingly losing access to the ever faster and more diverse data and control is becoming impossible. It requires an enormous amount of energy and an unprecedented amount of financial resources in the human world. A dangerous bubble is being created here, which will probably burst and whose dangerous radiation power can be compared with radioactive radiation power. Or is its radiation power possibly even more dangerous than that from atoms? Nuclear power could be controlled and contained by the state. The state has no control over the use of AI, as it can be used privately and privacy is protected from access.

At the end of such purely materialistic world-building is not people's acquired trust in progress, but sheer fear of scientific results. Fear, in turn, is the safest and best breeding ground for military conflicts. Wars will characterise the future, not AI.

What position can art take in this obvious dilemma as an unavoidable form of human expression - just like language? In order to provide a brief answer to this question, it is necessary to look at the three spheres of human thought and action. They are:

- religion

- art

- science.

Religion has become untrustworthy due to its tendency to want to exercise power and dominion over people's minds and actions. Science threatens and frightens people. Trust has been lost in both. They can no longer assume responsibility, because trust must always be established before responsibility can be assumed. That is a condition. We therefore only have art as a possibility and foundation for responsible behaviour. We can survive with it. We can still survive, because even art, the last lifeline, is in danger of being destroyed by ignorance, false coinage and greed. That is why education must come from the creative powers of art. But I have little hope that this will happen. For art is also in a crisis of identity, as it is being abused by egotistical desires that are mostly governed by purely economic considerations. But nowhere else is man so close to himself as in art and that is why we have to start here. 

Franz Kafka (1883 - 1924) said that "the absurd is the true".

This brings us full circle to the church father Tertullian (160 - 240 AD), whom I mentioned at the beginning of my thoughts, and his guiding principles, with which he gave the element of the absurd the central position within Christian doctrine.

"The Son of God was crucified; this is not a dishonour, because it is.

And the Son of God died; that is credible, because it is absurd.

And he rose from the grave; that is quite certain, because it is impossible."

From Egon Friedell, C.H. Beck, Munich, "Cultural History of Modern Times"

Finally, my appeal: we need a paradigm shift!